Monday, June 11, 2007

Another reason why we are thinking cold war...

Just read an interesting article from La Russophobe written by Ott Lumi, from the New Europe. In the article Mr. Lumi describes an Estonia which is now angered by Russia's insistence of playing a strong hand in their internal politics, using its market powers to weaken them economically, destabilizing its government and of course, playing with their national monuments. The article is pretty emotionally written and offers a view of a small, inoffensive European country with a looming specter of invasion on its horizons.

Scary stuff.

But the main thrust of the article boils down to one statement:

    The main cause for such identity crises is the fact that Kremlin still cannot accept its realistic role in the today’s world. It is weird to watch that a country with GDP per capita far behind the poorest in EU is still trying to pretend to act like an Empire, except concentrating to its internal problems. With a rapidly worsening demographic situation and critical living-conditions in many areas, it is mainly just the high level of oil prices in the world market, which makes it possible for the current Kremlin administration to play the revival of Soviet Union.

I wonder though who actually is in denial here. The fact remains that despite any Estonian moral outrage at their presence, Russia DID inspire a riot in Estonia, HAS caused some destabilization in its government and HAS caused some issues in its market place. I say for a country with an overstated sense of ego, Russia done a pretty good job of proving that they are in fact an genuine influential party. And more so, despite now residing under the flag of the European rather than Soviet Union, apparently Mr. Lumi does not deny that there is a possibility of a Russian takeover. (His reasons for not wanting this by the way are not that his country treasures its independence but that Europe has outwardly a better living situation; They are not denying they are it for the money, they just want a more comfy apartment.) To me, this sounds like a remarkably influential county.

And this is exactly the point that Russia is trying to make all over the world. For all of the Euro trash-talk about Russia's inelegance, an old chestnut which has been like a full snuffbox for pro-European propaganda since the days of the slave trade, Russia is in fact cornering the market on energy resources and becoming stupid rich in the process. Demanding that America rethink its missile shield program is only possible because they have the money to upgrade their own missile system. Putting together a package to host the Olympics is Sochi is only possible because they have the money to build the facilities. Buying twenty-two 787's from Boeing and building a space needle of a building to house its golden-boy Gazprom is only possible because… its possible.

And if all of this seems kind of like a loan shark putting a fur on a dancing girl, well, Zero Mostel once explained it this way: If you got it, flaunt it!

To me all of this ostentatious behavior has its roots in the political arena. Most people I speak with would bet the house and the farm that Putin will remain for a third term and that probably his doing so will be seen as a mandate from the people. Proving even outwardly that he can command top dollar and receive it, can make George Bush back down on the missile issue (and re-instill fear of nuclear annihilation to the whole of the western world) and can stir up trouble is Estonia means exactly that he is as powerful as all of that. I'd like to see a pundit anywhere who might say that a voting public might not be impressed.

But also there is the bi-polar argument. If Russia can show that it can provide for its people at anything that even seems (to them) like a comfortable level, the government will not be asked to disband. Yes, a lot of this has its roots in Socialism, at least to the voting public, but this SHOULD NOT be dismissed as inconsequential. The bi-polar argument, that there should be a second, socialist body in the world to balance out unchecked capitalism, is real and there are many, many people in the world who do not see that western omnipotence has led to the betterment of their lives. Certainly Ukraine's back-to-Russia argument is as good an example of that as any. Belarus' fighting to retain its Union State despite being publicly spanked by Russia over New Years is another. Even Edward Lucas understands the point

    American moral power is not what it was. As Gary Kasparov, a chess champion and critic of the Kremlin, noted testily, Mr Bush’s talk of freedom gets tiresome when it is not backed up with anything practical."
And then adds,

    "Talking about spreading democracy sounds fanciful. Even safeguarding the gains of the past 15 years from an assertive and authoritarian Russia is looking increasingly difficult."

The EU might not like what Russia is doing or how they are doing it, but the bottom line seems to be that they are going to need to respect that they can. Just because the west slept a little more calmly over the last fifteen years because of a diminished Russia does not mean that the Russians we all that happy during that time. I think a lot of people, including the Estonians understand what this really means and that they, like everyone else, are going to have to accept the fact that Russia is again in the middle of things. And, that they have no intention of going away quietly any time soon.